The Tampa Bay Lightning came to Prudential Center for the only time this season. It was the last meeting of the 2021-22 season between the Devils and Lightning with the teams splitting the two previous games in Florida.
With a win, the Devils would have taken the season series from the Bolts for the first time since 2017-18.
Instead, while the Devils worked hard to stay competitive with Tampa early on, a late surge by the Stanley Cup champs resulted in a 6-3 win for the Lightning.
The Devils were still missing Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt to injury with Christian Jaros being the team’s healthy scratch.
In other injury news, Dougie Hamilton is preparing to return, as he is just working to adjust to the face shield that he will need to wear due to the injured jaw. Erika Wachter also reported in the MSG+ pregame show that there is a chance that Miles Wood could return before the end of the season since he is not completely ruled out.
In goal, the Devils turned to Jon Gillies again. Gillies made 24 saves on 30 total Lightning shots for an .800 save percentage. He stopped Tampa’s only shorthanded shot and their only power play shot as the Bolts went 0-for-1 on the power play. At even strength, he was 22-for-28.
After letting in Tampa’s sixth goal, Gillies was pulled in favor of Nico Daws. Daws stopped the only two shots he saw, including one of them shorthanded and the other at five-on-five.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, arguably the best goaltender in the NHL right now, was in net for the Lightning. He stopped 22 of the Devils’ 25 total shots for an .880 save percentage. He got two of the Devils’ three power play shots (the Devils were 1-for-3 on the man advantage tonight) and 20 of New Jersey’s 22 shots at five-on-five play.
The nine total goals the Devils got past Vasilevskiy this season is the most he has given up to one opponent this season.
The Devils were in their third uniforms tonight and there was another milestone as Jimmy Vesey was playing in his 400th NHL game tonight. Congratulations to him!
Tampa had last played last Friday (a 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes) so they were well-rested and looking to get back in their groove.
The Devils took advantage of that layoff for the Bolts by getting on the board first 8:27 inot the game. Yegor Sharangovich skated the puck through the neutral zone and dished off to Dawson Mercer on the right-wing boards, passing off of the rush. Mercer shot and Erik Cernak partially intercepted it in front of the Lightning net. Jack Hughes knocked Cernak’s stick stick away and, as the Lightning defenseman bobbled the puck, it went in behind Vasilevskiy.
Initially, it was thought that Hughes had jarred the puck into the net, but he ended up with the assist only because of his work of pressuring and forcing Cernak to bobble Mercer’s shot. Mercer got the credit for the goal.
Either way, it was 1-0 Devils, but that would last for less than 30 seconds.
Twenty-eight seconds following Mercer’s goal, the Lightning got the puck in deep in the Devils zone. It kind of pinballed around off of Ty Smith’s skate and to Vesey, who tried to sweep it towards the corner. Instead, it ended up on Pat Maroon’s stick right in front of the Devils net and he scored unassisted to tie the game at one.
Each team had set the pace by scoring on their respective first shots of the game.
The Devils retook the lead before the first intermission. Tampa got a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 17:48 gone by in the first.
With less than a minute to go in the period, at 19:04, Victor Hedman had the puck to the right side of the Lightning net and held on just a second too long before trying to clear it.
Jesper Boqvist took that opportunity to forecheck from behind, poking the puck off of Hedman’s stick towards Mercer, who quickly gave it to Tomas Tatar along the near boards. Tatar then fed Sharangovich in the slot. Mercer had gone to the front of the Tampa net to provide a screen on Vasilevskiy. Sharangovich’s shot beat Vasilevskiy to put the Devils in front 2-1 going into the second period.
The Devils added to that lead just 1:48 into the second period when Mercer dug the puck out of Tampa defenseman Cal Foote’s skates at the Lightning blue line. Mercer passed to Jack Hughes, who streaked up the left-wing side, shot and put his own rebound in to make it 3-1 Devils.
With that assist, Mercer had now factored into all three Devils goals with a goal and two assists, giving him his first three-point NHL game.
Little did anyone know at that time that this was the beginning of the end for the Devils.
Things started to fall apart at 15:32 gone by in the second when the Lightning won a faceoff deep in the Devils zone. Jan Rutta recovered and got it to Nikita Kucherov, who passed to Steven Stamkos in the slot.
Stamkos had a ton of time and picked his spot, beating Gillies stick side off the post and in to cut the Devils lead to 3-2.
The Bolts wasted no time in tying things either.
Only 41 seconds after the Stamkos goal, Mikhail Sergachev gathered the puck at the Devils blue line with his skate and spun away from pressure. He got a shot off on net, which Alex Killorn redirected up high past Gillies to tie the game at three apiece. Hedman had the secondary assist.
Just like that, the tide had turned for the Devils. And things were going to get worse in the third period.
The final frame began with Hedman hitting the post early in the period. He shot while the puck was on edge but the Devils got lucky and the shot hit the iron.
Hedman, however, would not be denied 7:17 into the third when the Lightning again won a faceoff in the Devils zone. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare moved it to Corey Perry, who skated it behind the Devils net. He then banked a pass off of the left-wing boards towards Hedman at the point. Hedman wound up for a one-timer. His shot got through and beat Gillies cleanly to make it 4-3 Tampa, the Bolts’ first lead of the night.
Almost two minutes later, at 9:14 gone by, Tampa would gain an insurance marker. Vesey made a nice play in the Lightning zone but was unable to get a clear shot on net. He tried to make a tough pass to PK Subban at the point. This made it hard for Subban to handle and he bobbled it, with Brayden Point stealing it and headmanning it to Nikita Kucherov, who was in behind the Devils defense. He went in alone on Gillies and scored to make it 5-3.
Tampa had one more in them as well. At the 10:21 mark, Perry came up the right-wing boards and shot off of the rush. His shot dribbled behind Gillies into the Devils’ crease. Bellemare got to the loose puck before Jonas Siegenthaler and poked the loose puck into the Devils net to make it 6-3 Bolts. Maroon had the secondary assist on the goal.
It was after this goal that Daws came on in relief as the Bolts had scored five unanswered goals.
The game got very chippy towards the end as the fireworks were not over. At 14:50 of the third, things started to boil over for the Devils.
Nate Bastian and Cernak would square off then and each got five-minute majors for fighting. Mason Geertsen, who had tried to goad Maroon into a fight (with Maroon declining) took a game misconduct, so he was lost for the last five minutes or so of the game as well.
At the 18:36 mark, Sergachev and Damon Severson fought following a scrum around the Tampa Bay net. Cal Foote, who had actually set the whole thing off by knocking Marian Studenic into Vasilevskiy (and then jumping him for bumping the Tampa goalie), got an extra two-minutes for roughing – putting New Jersey on the power play to end the game.
But the Devils could muster no more and 6-3 was our final.
The Devils were outshot 32-25 and won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Michael McLeod leading the Devils’ centers with a 69-percent personal winning percentage.
The Devils ended the game with 22 team penalty minutes while Tampa had 16. The Devils were outhit 20 to 16 and the Bolts had 17 blocked shots to the Devils’ nine. The Devils also had 15 team giveaways to seven for the Lightning.
Severson led the Devils with 22:55 of total ice time (which included 1:51 on the power play and 1:20 of PK time). Smith logged more power play time with 2:39 out of his 18:17 total TOI while Siegenthaler had more shorthanded time with 1:32 out of his 21:53 of total ice time.
Hughes led the forwards with 20:35 of total ice time (including 3:23 of power play time). Pavel Zacha led the forwards in PP time with 3:27 out of his 18:06 of total ice time while Sharangovich led in PK time with 1:20 out of his 19:21 of total ice time.
Sharangovich (a goal and an assist for two points), Mercer (a goal and two assists for three points) and Hughes (a goal and an assist for two points) each had multi-point nights for the Devils.
Zacha and Hughes each led in shots on goal with four. Geertsen led in hits with four. Nico Hischier (whose goal-scoring streak ended tonight) and PK Subban each led in blocked shots with two apiece. Personal giveaways were led by Hughes with four while Mercer led in personal takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils will have an eight-day break. February was supposed to be free for the NHL with the All-Star break followed by the Winter Olympics. When NHL players pulled out of the Olympics, COVID postponed games were rescheduled for the month. The Devils have made all of theirs up, so will now get a little more than a week off.
They will reconvene in Pittsburgh on Thursday, February 24 to take on the Penguins at 7 PM on MSG+. We will have that for you then and will continue to update as the week goes on with any news and goings on in the world of the Devils.
Until then, have a great week everyone!